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“Shaping a sustainable future”

International Business Management (B.A.) students from Cologne visited the UN campus in Bonn. – A report by Naemi Siemens and Julius Kümpers, 1st Semester.

Towards the end, even Brexit comes up again. We, an excursion group of students from Hochschule Fresenius, have just reached the 29th floor of the „Langer Eugen“, as the central high-rise on the UN campus in Bonn is also officially called, and marvel the view over Bonn, when Karl Prinz directs our attention towards the carpet. Just like everything else in the building, the carpet lies under monument protection. When the building was renovated prior to the UN officially moving here, even the carpet had to be faithfully replicated. The job was tendered across Europe and went to a carpet manufacturer in Scotland. Ten years from now, Karl Prinz remarks, after many more visitors like us will have walked the 29th floor, it will probably have to be replaced again. What do we think; will the job again go to a business that, by then, will quite possibly have been excluded from the European free trade?

Karl Prinz has to smirk. As the former ambassador to Mali and Ivory Coast, he has seen and experienced a lot. When you hear him express the common view that Brexit is, by comparison to other issues around the globe, a rather absurd affair, it carries a lot more weight.

You were able to sense this level of experience throughout Prinz‘ talk on the United Nations, the heart of his two-hour tour around the UN campus. We were allowed front-row seats, where journalists usually sit when press conferences are held and translated from the interpreters‘ glass cabins behind us into one of the six official languages of the UN – French, Russian, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic and, of course, English. As we are students of International Business Management, today’s talk was in English. Each time questions came up, Karl Prinz asked us to speak into one of the mounted microphones.

First, however, we only listened and absorbed the information. 18 organizations and 1,000 employees of the United Nations work in Bonn. Following the motto „Shaping a sustainable future“, they pool efforts towards a lasting improvement of ecological conditions around the world. In addition, the UN protects human rights – as they were internationally defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which celebrated its 70th anniversary on 10 Dec 2018 – and keeps worldwide peace. Since 2015, these efforts are specified in the „2030 Agenda“, which comprises 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to improve economic, social and ecological conditions around the world.

As we are in Bonn, seat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), it was only fitting, that Karl Prinz focussed on the last. In 2015, the Paris Agreement, for which the UNFCCC is leadingly responsible, documented that all member states would collaborate to keep the rise of the average global temperature within this century well below two degrees Celsius. Now, we have already reached 1.1 degrees – while a key member state, the United States of America, has already withdrawn from it. Even if the United Nations regularly manages to gather all 193 member states around one table, Karl Prinz pointed out, the results are sometimes frustratingly futile.

These were the moments within Prinz‘ talk that will stick in our memory the longest. The United Nations are a success story, but Karl Prinz made sure to also address its darker chapters. Even 71 successful peace missions for example cannot wash away that, in Rwanda and Srebrenica, genocide and mass murder took place under the eyes and protection of the blue helmets, the UN peacekeeping troops. Regularly, Karl Prinz stopped to grant us time and space for critical reflection: The majority of the UN peacekeeping troops comes from developing countries, which are paid per head they provide to the UN peacekeeping missions. The money comes from wealthy countries – most of it from the USA, but also from Germany. Only about 800 of the roughly 90,000 UN soldiers worldwide today come from the German Armed Forces. At the same time, Ethiopia and Bangladesh send about ten times as much. Is this ethical? Karl Prinz let us figure it out ourself.

Ultimately, this drew some critical remarks from us. „Do you have a concrete example of how Germany supports the ecological goals of the 2030 Agenda?,“ Stefanos Borodimos asked. He found the part on the SDGs to be especially interesting. At this point, Karl Prinz got really excited. It came down to every single one of us, he said, especially regarding sustainability. Personally, Karl Prinz has given up his car a long time ago. He now comes to work by foot or bike.

Half an hour later, on the 29th floor overlooking Bonn, the issue of sustainability is again what makes Karl Prinz share one of his many educational and interesting anecdotes. When Bonn was still the capital and Konrad Adenauer chancellor of Germany, the Rhöndorf-native used to cross the Rhine every morning by ferry. All his life, Adenauer fought the construction plans of a bridge across the river in fear of what the increasing traffic might do to the natural tranquility of the nearby Siebengebirge. Karl Prinz points out the Drachenfels across the Rhine. From up here, we realize that us humans are really nothing but guests on Earth – and how great it is that the United Nations advocates and fights for it.

Hochschule Fresenius wants to thank Karl Prinz and the UN for an inspirational time and great excursion.